A Yule Tour to Tasmania

1 flight in

When looking for something to do over the festive season, the idea of having a Hobart Christmas proved attractive. My only previous visit to Tasmania was over 20 years ago and was a wet and cold week in the middle of winter. I was expecting better things this time round – and apart from a rainy Boxing Day – I was not disappointed. Flying in, I could see the Derwent river valley in all its glory with the majestic Mt Wellington in the background. Just about the only concern was the fact the plane seemed to be landing well  away from Hobart. On a small island it was a surprise to find the airport so far from the city though for just $18 a friendly bus driver took me almost to the front door of my apartment in the hills of West Hobart. 2 con docks Having dropped my bags off and got some vital supplies for the week it was straight into town and down to the docks. Constitution Dock would be the landing place of the Sydney to Hobart race and I hoped to see some of the earliest arrivals before I left a week later (Unfortunately the first to arrive came just hours after I left Tasmania). It’s a bustling area full of yachts, fishing boats and pleasure crafts, all glistening in the sunshine. I settled in for a beer and later some fresh fish and chips straight out of one of the crafts in the dock (the serving counter is low in the water and I wonder whether anyone has fallen in while bending over to make the transaction). 3 hunter st

Next to the Docks is imposing Hunter St. Unlike Brisbane which has ruthlessly razed its past, Hobart is full of streets that still speak to older times. At the turn of the 20th century, Hunter St would have been bristling with factories, pubs, chandlers, offices and warehouses. There was also the jam factory, home of Henry Jones and Co IXL makers of fine jams and conserves, established in 1891. The IXL brand – “I excel in everything I do” was Henry Jones’s personal motto. 4 salamanca place

Salamanca Place is at the other end of Sullivans Cove from Constitution Dock, nestled in behind Battery Point. But it too was the home of wharfside warehouses and it too has escaped the ravages of time. It was named after the Duke of Wellington’s victory in the 1812 Iberian campaign in the Battle of Salamanca. Salamanca boomed during the whaling days of the early 1800s and many laneways were built to cope with the milling crowds. Every Saturday the Place comes alive with a market. The Saturday I was there was Boxing Day and non-stop rain kept me away. 5 museum Tasmania has a sea-faring culture a lot older than 200 years. At the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery near the docks, the restored ningina tunapri Tasmanian Aboriginal gallery is a rich, enlightening and inspiring experience. Ningina tunapri means “to give knowledge and understanding”. The exhibition explores the journey of Tasmanian Aboriginal people and is a celebration of all Tasmanian Aboriginal generations. The centrepiece is a reconstructed canoe which would have been used to cross the D’Entrecasteaux Passage for generations. 6 walk The highlight of the second day was a 12.5km walk to the suburb of Berriedale, home of the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA). MONA didn’t exist when I was last in Hobart so I was excited about the visit, though determined to take my time about it. You can get to MONA by a superfast ferry from the centre of town taking just half an hour up the Derwent (indeed this was the pleasurable way I got back) but with plenty of time on a beautiful Christmas Eve I was in the mood for a two hour walk. The walk has great views of the Derwent estuary for for first half (with its two majestic bridges) before following the old railway line a little inland through the suburbs of Moonah and Glenorchy. 7 mona Finally the impressive property which holds MONA comes into view. MONA is the brainchild of wealthy gambler David Walsh. MONA was opened in the middle of winery in 2011. Walsh has said it’s not altruistic or his attempt at immortality but a “theatre of curious enchantments”. Certainly there is plenty for the eyes to feast on in a deceptively large building over several floors..8 gilbert and george The highlight of my visit to MONA was the art exhibition of Gilbert and George. I didn’t know a great deal about these distinctively well dressed British artists and I had assumed they were stuffy upper-class toffs. I couldn’t have been more wrong. They certainly enjoy putting themselves in their work (either immaculate dressed or completely starkers) but their themes are political, sexual and confronting. I loved their canvasses based on media headlines and their bright colours were also enchanting.

9 walk to mountain

Speaking of enchanting that’s a great description for kunanyi Mt Wellington, standing 1627m high 15km west of the city. Having walked 12.5km on Christmas Eve, I was in the mood for an even bigger walk on Christmas Day, though I didn’t take into account Hobart’s incredible weather. It was 30 degrees – possibly the hottest Christmas day ever. I was well stocked with water as I started along the Hobart Rivulet path but my hopes of getting to the summit in three hours proved hopelessly optimistic. I’d heard someone did walk to the summit that day – but took five and a half hours. I turned back after two hard hours and I was nowhere near the summit climb.10 cascades But the day provided one outstanding sight. Struggling in the 30 degree heat, I was still awestruck by the beauty of the Cascades Brewery with the mountain in the background. The Cascades estate was originally a saw mill beginning operation in 1825 and the brewery started six years later taking advantage of the clean water of the Hobart Rivulet. It remains the oldest continuing operating brewery in Australia with tours – though not surprisingly was closed on Christmas Day when only mad dogs and Irishmen were out in the noon day sun.11 kettering I tried to book myself onto a Bruny Island tour before Christmas but they were all booked out. I knew the Boxing Day weather forecast was dismal so I booked myself in for Sunday, December 27. First stop is Kettering, 30km south of Hobart, where the ferry leaves for Bruny. Traffic was heavy for the ferry and we had a chance to hop off the bus and explore this pretty port.12 adventure bay

After the ferry ride (which takes only 15 minutes across the D’Entrecasteaux Channel) there is a 40 minute drive along narrow and winding roads to Bruny’s settlement: Adventure Bay. A small beach is mostly deserted but there is a cafe for morning tea (and lunch later) nestled next to Captain Bligh Creek. Bligh and Cook had both anchored here on their voyages to Tasmania.13 iron pots Then it’s off for a three hour roller-coaster ride down Bruny Island’s eastern seaboard. I was with Pennicott’s yellow boat tours. The boats hold 45-50 people and I was told that if you want a smooth ride you go to the back of the boat. I sat right at the front and experienced the belly flop of every breaker. But it was fabulous with magnificent sea stacks, rock formations and blow holes wherever you looked.14 seals Finally at the bottom of Bruny Island was what we all came to see Arctocephalus pusillus doriferus, the Australian fur seal. The highlight of the day (though the albatrosses gliding in the breeze were special too). There were hundreds of seals sunning on the rocks. The Australian fur seal can be seen around the islands of Bass Strait, parts of Tasmania and southern Victoria and occasionally drift up to the islands of NSW and South Australia. There is a huge colony of a thousand seals who live in the rocky outcrops and craggy islands off the southern end of Bruny. The seals are agile swimmers who can dive up to 200m to catch bony fish, squid and octopus. Despite a cumbersome appearance they showed they could be mobile out of water on on rocky terrain using all four limbs to get around (that, their external ears and two layers of fur differentiate them from true seals). Fully protected now, their numbers are rising after being hunted to near extinction for their coat in the 19th century.16 top of mt w Monday was my last full day in Hobart and with the help of friends with a car I finally got to the top of Mt Wellington. The view was amazing in every direction. I saw most of where I went the day before to Bruny and out east towards the Tasman Peninsula. I couldn’t see the Sydney to Hobart fleet who were just a bit too slow for me and I missed them by one day. It can get cool up at the top. On rainy Boxing Day when it was 13 in the city it was minus six up on kunanyi. A bit warmer today.17 taste Down at the bottom of the mountain it was time to indulge in some taste of Tasmania. On my last day it was a good excuse to relax with a friend and enjoy the Taste of Tasmania festival on the dockside. On now for over 20 years to coincide with the Sydney to Hobart, the Taste of Tasmania closes off the roads and brings Hobart’s gorgeous waterfront alive with great smells, sights, sounds and of course, tastes in abundance. Entry was free and once inside you spoiled for choice of great Tasmanian food and drink. There was seafood, great cheeses, berries, boutique beers and ciders but I plumped for a cool fruity Tasmanian chardonnay which slid wonderfully down the throat. It was a great island at its best. Tasmania, I’ll be back. 15 lous One final photo and proof that although the word is recent, the concept of a selfie is nothing new. Louis Bernacchi was the first Australian to spend a winter in Antarctica. Bernacchi was born in Belgium but grew up in Hobart. At the turn of the 20th century he joined the London Southern Cross expedition to the Antartic and wrote a book about it called “To the South Polar Regions”. Family responsibilities later saved his life when they forced him to turn down a spot on Scott’s ill-fated expedition. But he kept a lifelong interest in polar matters. The dockside monument commemorates a photo he took of himself and his dog Joe in the Antarctic. Just one of the many reasons to spend time by the water in lovely Hobart.


Bartlett should accept McKim’s Tasmanian Coalition offer

A Tasmanian Green media release today confirmed what most people understood as the Green position in the Apple Isle: they would prefer a coalition government but won’t support a no confidence motion against the Labor Government. In the absence of a negotiated settlement or outright malfeasance by Labor, David Bartlett will be able to serve out a second term as Tasmanian Premier. Greens leader Nick McKim continued to offer to negotiate with either party and said they would still hold all of their pre-election policies including opposition to the proposed Gunns pulp mill, fighting to save Tasmania’s high conservation value forests, and rolling back the government’s education reform program “Tasmania Tomorrow”.

These latter three policies are likely to be major sticking points and make Bartlett’s long-term survival hopes tenuous. Bartlett could strengthen that position by sitting down with McKim but he has shown little sign of wanting to negotiate an obvious centre-left coalition between Labor and the Greens. In the poisonous world of Tasmanian politics, Labor might have been better served seeking a Coalition with the Liberals. Prior to the election, Bartlett said he had no level of trust in McKim.The election under the Hare-Clark rules on 20 March left Tasmania with a lower house of 10 Labor seats, 10 Liberal and 5 Greens. While such a result is common in Europe and leads to workable coalitions, here the result was greeted with consternation. Both the major parties stuck their collective heads in the sand and said working with the Greens was impossible – working with each other was simply the beyond the realm of thought.

Because the Liberals took 39 percent of the vote to Labor’s 37, Bartlett initially held to his campaign promise that he would hand over power to the Liberals in the event they outvoted them. Bartlett began to pull back from that promise in the weeks following the election. He was bolstered by McKim’s offer of support despite having making no efforts to woo the Greens. On 9 April, Tasmanian Governor Peter Underwood offered the Premiership back to Bartlett. Underwood still retains the possibility of offering the job to the Liberals’ Will Hodgman in the event it doesn’t work out. Only then would Tasmanians face another election.

Hodgman bitterly protested the decision and slammed Bartlett for going back on his promise. But this was never Bartlett’s decision to make. As Tasmanian lawyer Greg Barns said, “Underwood correctly applied constitutional convention, which is to say he asked himself which party could provide stability and saw that the answer was clearly the ALP. End of story.”

ABC election analyst Antony Green believes Bartlett and McKim are finally discussing the possibility of coalition government with the possibility McKim and fellow Greens MP Tim Morris may be offered ministries. Former Premier Paul Lennon is also pushing for Bartlett to offer McKim a ministry. How they deal with the decision on Gunn’s Tamar Vale pulp mill will be an early test of such an alliance, nevertheless they are talking and the Greens may find it harder to oppose from inside the tent. Australian politicians don’t take easy to compromise but it is the mark of mature governance and often the only way things get done in a democracy.

Hopes for Tasmanian Devil Deadly Facial Tumour Disease cure

Hopes for a cure of the deadly facial tumour disease (DFTD) in Tasmanian Devils have grown with the news scientists have discovered its genetic code. DFTD is a highly contagious mouth cancer unique to devils passed on during sex and fights. The tumour quickly spreads on the face and to internal organs, killing the animal within nine weeks. The mysterious disease has threatened the species with extinction within 35 years. However the new discovery of the genetic composition allows scientists to develop a diagnostic test. The Australian and overseas-based research team hopes to be able to develop not just vaccines, but therapies as well.

University of Tasmania researchers earlier last year developed a pre-diagnostic test similar to a Prostate Specific Antigen test for human prostate cancer but this has not yet been scientifically validated. A diagnostic test builds on the earlier work and will be more conclusive. Scientist Greg Woods from the Hobart-based Menzies Research Institute said the identification of the nerve-protection called Schwann cells as the likely origin of DFTD was a significant step. “We are now much more confident in understanding what the tumour cell is and this will help in the development of treatments and strategies to combat this disease,” he told The Australian.
DFTD is a new disease. No case was found in any animal captured by wildlife biologists before 1996. That year devils with large facial tumours started appearing. Small lumps around the mouth quickly develop into large tumours on the face and neck making it difficult for the animal to eat. If they don’t die of starvation, the cancer kills the infected animal within nine weeks. By the end of 2009 DFTD had killed 60 percent of the total devil population. In the north-east region of Tasmania, where signs of the disease were first reported, there has been a 95 percent decline in sightings from 1995 to 2005.Scientists initially thought DFTD was a virus but realised it was a cancer after they compared the DNA from sick and healthy devils. They discovered a single nerve cell gene from one devil created the disease cells and then spread to many other animals. Analyses of these cell genes and gene activity patterns indicated the tumor cells most closely matched Schwann cells, a type of cell that forms a waxy sheath called myelin around nerve fibres.

The researchers say a protein called periaxin normally found only in Schwann cells is also present in devil facial tumor cells and might be a good diagnostic marker for the disease. They still don’t know how the cancerous Schwann cells became contagious in the first place. Katherine Belov, a geneticist at the University of Sydney, believes it may simply be a “freak of nature” that allowed the cancer to be stable and transmitted.

Whatever it was, its effects have been catastrophic. In May 2009, the Australian Government raised the Tasmanian devil from “Vulnerable” to “Endangered” under national environmental law. Tasmania’s Threatened Species Act 1995 has also listed the devil as “Endangered” since May 2008. By end 2008, the disease had been confirmed at 64 locations, covering 60 percent of Tasmania. The Tasmanian government has launched a Save the Tasmanian Devil Program aimed at maintaining genetic diversity, maintaining healthy populations in the wild and managing the ecological impacts of reduced populations.

It is usually uncommon for wildlife diseases to lead directly to population extinction in the absence of other severe threats. But there had not been any evidence of a single recovery from the disease. There are fears niches left vacant by the large carnivorous marsupial will be taken up by introduced species such as feral cats and foxes. If this occurs there could be a wider impact on Tasmania’s wildlife. The new scientific findings represent the best hope to save the devil. It may take ten years to produce a vaccine against the disease but that will probably be enough time to save the animal from extinction and avoid tipping the island into a major ecological collapse.